• Monday, March 04, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Kemi Badenoch in India to ‘kickstart’ new round of FTA talks; will not discuss student visas

“India and the UK are the 5th and 6th biggest economies in the world. We have a long shared history, and are in pole position to do a deal that will create jobs, encourage growth and boost our 29 billion pounds trading relationship.”

International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

By: Melvin Samuel

UK Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch arrives in New Delhi on Monday to “kickstart” the sixth round of free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations and hold bilateral talks with her Indian counterpart Piyush Goyal.

The new round marks the first formal meeting between the India-UK negotiating teams since July and the first since Rishi Sunak took charge as British Prime Minister.

His Trade Secretary will address both teams of senior negotiators ahead of the sixth round of formal negotiations, scheduled to take place throughout the week.

However, according to a report in the Telegraph, Badenoch will not dicuss student visas in Indian trade deal talks.

Indian students have for the first time overtaken Chinese as the largest group of foreign students studying in the UK with a massive 273 per cent hike in visas granted over the past few years.

“There were 127,731 (study visa) grants to main applicant Indian nationals in the year ending September 2022, an increase of 93,470 (273 per cent) compared to 2019 (34,261),” the Home Office had said.

Though Badenoch said on Sunday night, as she flew to Delhi, “Student visas are a separate Home Office responsibility. So they wouldn’t come into a Free Trade Agreement.”

“Often FTAs get dragged into things that aren’t to do with trade… Making sure we don’t let business talks turn into Home Office talks is very key for me.”

In October UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman branded Indians as the “largest group of people who overstay” their visas in the UK.

“I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit,” Braverman told ‘The Spectator’.

Asked about visa flexibility for students and entrepreneurs under an India-UK FTA, she said: “But I do have some reservations. Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants.

“We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better cooperation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well.”

Expressing optimism ahead of the visit, Badenoch said, “I’m here in New Delhi to kickstart round six of UK-India trade negotiations and meet my counterpart (Commerce and Industry) Minister Goyal in person to drive progress on this agreement.”

“Both nations have come to the table with the very highest of ambitions and a willingness to work together towards a mutually beneficial deal. I’m excited about the opportunities we can create for British business,” she said.

“India and the UK are the 5th and 6th biggest economies in the world. We have a long shared history, and are in pole position to do a deal that will create jobs, encourage growth and boost our 29 billion pounds trading relationship,” she added.

The UK government said the target for the FTA is to achieve a deal to cut tariffs and open opportunities for UK services such as financial and legal, making it easier for British businesses to sell to the Indian economy, which is set to be the world’s third largest with a middle class of 250 million people by 2050.

While in India, the UK trade secretary will also meet with business leaders to better understand their needs for a “modern UK-India trade relationship”. This will include a meeting with envoPAP, a UK company investing over 10 million pounds in India to construct a plant producing Fairtrade paper and packaging products.

The UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) said strong growth in the Indian economy is expected to boost UK exports to India by over £9 billion by the middle of the next decade.

Pointing to many UK businesses already taking advantage of the flourishing trading relationship, it highlighted food chain Pret A Manger and fintech pioneers Tide and Revolut among those with expansion plans for India.

Pret, a popular British coffee and sandwich retailer, is set to open its first branch in India early in 2023 following a franchise partnership with Reliance Brands. Mumbai will be the chain’s first branch as part of a plan to open 100 in total across the country.

“Bringing Pret’s freshly made food and organic coffee to more people around the world is a key part of our transformation strategy, and I’m delighted to be launching Pret in India,” said Pano Christou, CEO of Pret A Manger.

“With strong demand for fresh food and new dining experiences, we see an exciting opportunity to grow the Pret brand across India while also adding something truly unique to its food-to-go market,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tide, the UK’s leading small and medium enterprise (SME) focused business financial platform, announced the launch of its app as a market entry product in India last week. The launch is part of Tide’s expansion strategy, with India representing the company’s first international market.

Revolut, a British banking services app, is said to have created more than 300 Indian jobs and plans to create hundreds more in the coming years. After investing USD 46 million in the country, it recently opened its Indian head office in Bengaluru and aims to launch “bespoke” financial products, many of which would be reportedly new to the country.

DIT noted that an India-UK FTA would mean that businesses like Pret would benefit from a “reduction in red tape, more affordable cross-border trade, and increased opportunities to work with Indian companies and suppliers”.

“The UK-India FTA remains a top priority for the industry. We applaud the Secretary of State and Prime Minister for listening and prioritising substance over pace. Trade is a fundamental driver of growth and India will be an important partner and market as the UK looks to escape stagflation, attract skilled labour and deliver on the green transition,” said Andy Burwell, International Director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

According to official UK government data, India-UK bilateral trade currently stands at around £29.6 pounds a year. Both sides formally launched FTA negotiations at the start of this year with former prime minister Boris Johnson announcing a Diwali deadline for its conclusion.

However, Prime Minister Sunak committed to working “at pace” towards an FTA that does not “sacrifice quality for speed” after that October deadline was missed amid political turmoil in the UK.

“I discussed the free trade agreement with India, and both the Prime Minister of India and I committed our teams to work as quickly as possible to see if we can bring a successful conclusion to the negotiations,” Sunak told the House of Commons last month.

“Without negotiating all these things in public, I am pleased that the majority of the substantive negotiation conversations were concluded by the end of October. We will now work at pace with the Indian teams to try to resolve the issues and come to a mutually satisfactory conclusion,” he said.

(PTI)

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